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Friday, September 10, 2010

RETURN OF THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS -- DVD review by porfle



A sequel in name only, the retitled RETURN OF THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS (1978) is better described by its original title, CRIPPLED AVENGERS.  But by any name, it's classic Shaw Brothers fun that's loaded with interesting characters and hugely entertaining fight sequences. 

Director and co-writer Chang Cheh starts the deadly action from the first seconds when a group of bad guys, the Tian Nan Tigers, invade Du Tain Dao's house and dispatch his guards.  Then they cut his wife's legs off and chop off his young son Du Chang's hands.  Du Tain Dao shows up and wastes them with his Three Tigers fighting method, then vows to get the best blacksmith available to create some iron hands for his son.  Years later, we see the older Du Chang becoming a kung fu master with his father's teaching, and is quite adept at using his iron hands.

But just as we're thinking that this father-son team are the good guys, we learn that they've become cruel tyrants who rule the town through violence and fear, and enjoy crippling people for minor offenses.  A traveling peddler named Chen Shun is blinded by Du Chang, who also chops off the legs of a passing stranger, Wu Gui, for bumping into him.  Du Tain Dao, meanwhile, turns the local blacksmith, Wei, into a deaf-mute, and when a heroic warrior named Wang Yi tries to intervene, his skull is crushed in a viselike device until he's turned into an addlebrained idiot.


As you might guess, the four victims of the dastardly Dus get together and plan their revenge.  Training for the next three years with Wang Yi's elder teacher Li Zheng Yin at his secluded Eagle Mansion, they learn to overcome their handicaps and become a fierce fighting team.  These training scenes are a lot of fun, especially when the childlike Wang Yi's constant desire to play becomes part of the routine.  His sessions with the blind Chen Shun involving the use of large iron rings become an integral part of the climactic battle. 

Returning to the village on the eve of Du Tain Dao's elaborate birthday celebration, they immediately find themselves wading through one brawl after another with various guards, henchmen, and relatives.  Du's right hand man, Mr. Wan, devises various means of thwarting our heroes' abilities, such as arming his guards with gong-shields that keep Chen Shun from hearing their movements or blinding blacksmith Wei with mirrors. 

Wu Gui, meanwhile, makes good use of his new iron legs when the group is challenged by Du's brother Ju Gao Feng, a musclebound superman who arrives for the birthday bash and starts throwing his massive pecs around.  There's also a bad guy named Mr. Luo, known for his light-footed movements, and his associate Mr. Lin, who fires deadly steel balls with a bow-shaped slingshot. 


The second half of the film is a thrilling succession of showdowns and free-for-alls with endless combinations of opponents.  With a simple story free of needless complications, things move at a brisk pace with lots of dynamic action.  Aside from Chang Cheh's trademark whiplash pans and zooms, there's no fancy editing or flashy camerawork--long takes are filled with intricate choreography that's impressively performed. 

When Chen Shun and the eternally playful Wang Yi take on Du Chang in the final minutes, the sequence is such a sustained display of dazzling acrobatics that the effect is sheer amazement.  This extended action setpiece avoids monotony by being endlessly creative and fun.  Finally, after a solid fifteen minutes of non-stop action, a decisive battle with the vile Du Tain Dao ends the film with a bang.

The DVD from Vivendi's Dragon Dynasty label is in widescreen with Mandarin and English mono sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  No extras.

Whether you're a Shaw Brothers fan already or just looking to sample some classic kung fu action, RETURN OF THE FIVE DEADLY VENOMS is loaded with fist-flying beat-em-up fun all the way.  Just as long as you don't spend the whole time wondering where the heck those five deadly venoms are. 


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